International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

The French Model of a Care Unit for Victims of Traumatic Events

Posted 1 April 1996 in StressPoints by Didier Cremniter, MD

The development of a medical and psychological care unit for immediate interventions in cases of natural or accidental disasters, crowd accidents or bomb attacks in France was based on our experience in dealing with the victims of the Islamist bomb attacks during the summer of 1995.

The project was directed by Louis Crocq and supported by the political will to define the practical modalities of immediate psychological care for all such victims in France. While special centers for long-term treatment of victims do exist in France, this new option provides an immediate psychological intervention in emergency situations. The opportunity for specialized teams to provide psychological care and debriefing at various locations is the result of a close collaboration with the French SAMU (prehospital emergency medical service). We tested this plan in suburbs of Paris during the summer 1995 bomb attacks by means of duty teams. Every team included a psychiatrist, a psychologist and psychiatric nurse. However, in case of a major disaster requiring more workers, the first line team could be doubled. The team reached the site of the explosion by joining the SAMU, which is well-equipped with ambulances and helicopters. In situ they provided the first psychological debriefing. Those victims who were slightly wounded (acoustic and chest trauma) were transported to the nearest hospital, where psychiatric staff performed debriefings. In addition to the bomb attacks, the unit provided psychological care for hostages in a school in the northern suburbs of Paris and for victims of an accidental explosion in a building.

The role of this unit is to elaborate a rational French model of psychological intervention in collaboration with every regional head psychiatrist and SAMU coordinator. Members of this unit promote a training program not only for the team workers but also for first-aid workers, medical teams and public institutions (railway airport, electricity and gas employees). This mission is being carried out in close collaboration with victim associations and legal authorities.